Monday, February 8, 2021

The Writer as Jack-, Jill- or Jx- of-all-trades and Master, Mistress, Mx of none.

(Multimedia version of a poem that I made today.)

 The Writer as Jack-, Jill- or Jx- of-all-trades and Master, Mistress, Mx of none.

There’s always a great interest in what a writer’s life looks like. Apparently it begins when the writer is a small child and then the writer gets older. Some writing is done along the way. It’s a marvel. They might have a day job —identifying butterflies or working the information desk at an art gallery, or teaching, which is a combination of both. Is it? Dunno. But seems funny to say.

One thing, though, that seems like a constant across people’s notions of what a writer’s life is like is the idea of specialization. It’s often assumed that the writer finds their m├ętier—their style or genre—and explores that vein like gold in rock. And sure, that works for many but as a student, I just assumed that writers did many things. All of my mentors in writing did many writing-related things. Many arts-related things. Not only writing but publishing, editing, organizing events, festivals, teaching. And writing in a range of styles and genres—but in many modes of making. Visual (including on the page as well as 3D and film and digital), auditory—live performance, recordings, and sometimes a combination of all of the above, both digital and non-digital. I studied with bpNichol in undergrad and his model as a writer has been a continuing influence. His range of creative activities was very broad. I was struck by his curiosity, invention, creativity, and willingness to try, well, anything and everything.

This approach isn’t for everyone, and perhaps it is easy to be a Jack- or Jill- or Jx- of-all-trades and Master/Mistress/Mx of none. Or else it is possible to be multidimensionally inspired. And one area of inquiry nurtures and inspires the others. 

Over the last few days, I composed and recorded some music tracks (using computers and instruments that I play), made visual poetry/visual art, created several short films (incorporating my music, visuals, text and performance), worked on my novel, wrote a poem or two (some “experimental” work, a haiku, and a prose poem), and met with my colleagues on a public art sculpture that we’re creating. I also taught, did some editing, and did my part on the LitLive Literary Reading series committee. This works for me—this exploration of a variety of ways of making things. I mean, why not—why wouldn’t I want to continue to explore many things rather than just focussing on one means of creation. And that also means collaborating with others and/or connecting and forming a community of interests with others who do one or more of these kinds of work. 

Yesterday, a composer from Switzerland with whom I’ve been taking computer music programming lessons during the pandemic, suggested that we collaborate on something incorporating our interest in invented languages and scripts—intended for both humans and “others” – such as aliens or angels. I started exploring this after encountering the 16th c. writer Heinrich Agrippa’s writing system of the angels and scientist’s explorations of using frequency to represent language in order to communicate with possible extra-terrestrial cultures. So cool to get the opportunity to work on this with him.

And I’m aware that I’m not as adept or “professional” in some of the areas that I explore, but what is constant, and does (for the most part) transfer across the arts is the aesthetic sensibility gained from the time I’ve spent thinking about making, about art, about communication. So I might not be the world’s most brilliant animator, but I bring some of the experience I have as a poet to it. Some of the training I have as a musician. And so my simple animations have a “sophistimacated” sensibility that, as far as it goes, derives from the experience I’ve had in other forms. 

I feel that each of these artistic exploits informs the other and makes me a better writer, musician, and multimedia creator. It expands the range of my knowledge and understanding. It nourishes my thinking and my awareness of creative and aesthetic possibilities in all of the work that I do. I’m a more interesting novelist because I make videos. I’m a better poet because I play saxophone. (We could here speak about improvisation and how that practice of exploring the unknown and the unplanned helps writing.) I believe that I’ve learned about new paths through my old and moldy brain because instead of going only along one writerly direction, I’ve gone along the many that the different arts and approaches have encouraged. Experimentation leads to experimentation. Exploration to exploration. Problem solving to problem solving. Openness to openness. Old boots to old boots.

I should also say, that in addition to creating in a range of work, I’m a true believer in exploring everything as a reader, listener, viewer, audience member and so on. I think you should read everything, sure, but also pursue an interest in other arts. Other areas of knowledge, understanding and ways of thinking about the world.  

Ok. That’s my little sermon for today. I think I’m now going to explore my sophicated aesthetic notions by brewing myself a cup of pandimensional multiaesthetic polymedia coffee.